Saturday, October 3, 2015


"The Passageway" (12'x7'x7'), October, 2015
Paula Jeanine Bennett
art, sound and scent installation 
(steel, water-based paint, fabric, glue-transfer image, glass, metal, plastic-webbed cladding, coffee, bitter orange oil, 15-minute sound assemblage)
(at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, Red Hook, October, 2015)

How strange and splendid the ways of the muse!  It has been a tremendous adventure creating my new work "The Passageway",  and my first time making a large-scale piece.  Although installation art is often a laborious process, I have enjoyed every paint-spattered step.  

I call "The Passageway" psychological architecture.  Drawing on my early college days of being an urban studies major, the idea of the physical effect of built environment has always been one of my areas of interest.  "The Passageway" is an environment I have built to enfold the viewer in a new experience, one of mystery contained in a controlled space.
An important element of "The Passageway" is the 15-minute soundscape that plays continuously.  Found sounds, spoken word and song thread through the loop.  Although the text is a textural element in the soundscape as opposed to a feature, here is a transcript of what is being said:
"The dry, scented wind
the fig trees, the cedar wood and the mint beds
the murmur of the fast-running water
It was more than enough just to be present in the landscape"
                                                                        -Paul Bowles, "Without Stopping" 
And my text:
"The rough stones below rise to test every step
Each turn and doorway not quite like before
quite like before
in the daylight
Pulling the cloth tight against the wind
and then
the wind rises."
There is also a fragment of song in the soundscape, the first part of my composition, "The Wandering Suite".  Here is the text being sung in the loop:
"Wandering so far
from the shelter of the self
from the center
a step against the stones,

Here is a link to the fully recorded work

Another inspiration for the work was my travels in the ancient world:  India, Egypt and especially Morocco.  On a recent trip to Morocco I was astonished by the emotional response that the low passageways of the medina evoked from me, especially in two cities I love, Tetouan and Essaouira.  Here is an image from Tetouan.

This was my point of entry for the structure of "The Passageway".  I had made several stage set pieces for a performance in Morocco on the same trip.

The Doorway
(for "A Village Of One', Sefrou, Morocco)
The two-dimensional desert house
(for "A Village Of One", Sefrou, Morocco)

My mind began to sift and combine.  I built a model of an idea for a longer structure, combining some of the ideas and materials from these two constructions.  Here is an image of the wire, plumbing tube and fabric model that helped me clarify my ideas for "The Passageway":

"The Passageway" model  (7"x5"x8") 
At that point I was investigating the possibilities of chicken wire and garden hose for the structure.  But as stability is of utmost importance in installations, I began to search for an alternative.  My investigations led me to a structure called a hoophouse, used by gardeners to protect crops.  It would give me a skeleton to build upon.  Here is an image of the early stages of construction.
The skeleton constructed in the gallery

After the skeleton was in place, I began to add the frames, the shaped and draped arches.  Here are the early stages.
The back frame, mixed paper

Two more frames, mixed fabric

 Then the cladding that came with the hoophouse was put over the structure.

Work began to transform the structure.  Cutting, painting and more draping ensued.

Surveying the progress

The Passageway with additional draping

I had been working in the marvelous galleries of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition.  My workspace was in the center of the room, but The Passageway site was to the side, in an atmospheric corner of this amazing post-Civil War structure.  

Finally The Passageway was completed and moved to its site.  Here are some images that give a bit of the feeling of moving through the installation.

An important aspect of The Passageway is this image of a women in 1905 Tangier wrapped in a garment called a haik.  This idea of an enfolded woman informed much of my development of the installation.

Friends Annette and Michael enjoy the ambience

As a last touch I added the scent of bitter orange.  I want The Passageway to wake the senses and give the viewer a moment of pause.
Bitter orange amphora on the back frame

But mostly, I wanted to make poetry that could be walked through.

The artist in The Passageway